Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: The Sustainability Revolution

One of the reviews of this book:
Recent intellectual stints into the Big Picture of Sustainability trying to place thoughts within the current destructive economic and industrial paradigms had me searching for some additional perspectives on the matter. Luckily a quick Amazon search led to me to this incredibly useful little book that details the history of Sustainability over the past 200 years focusing most intently on the past 20 years as momentum picked up. Of interest to many readers will be the incredibly detailed Resource Section that includes 28 pages of Organizations, followed by a 15 page annotated bibliography. A true Who’s Who of Sustainability today that is a great launching point for additional study.
Edwards traces the history of Sustainability back to the early 19th century and the Transcendentalist of America. Emerson’s essays on Nature and Self Reliance are as poignant today as ever, and where would we be without Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience? Of special importance to Edward’s was the Transcendentalist’s connection between Nature and human wisdom and spirituality through its symbolism and connection with the Divine. The role of Nature as teacher was further developed in the early 20th century Naturalists, of which John Muir is perhaps the most notable. Muir’s works Our National Parks and Yosemite focused more on the systemic nature of Nature and also laid out the basis for conservation by detailing the impacts of ranching on our wild lands. Aldo Leopold picked up the torch in the 1940’s by intimately tying ecosystems to our survival in The Sand County Almanac and was one of the clearest voices establishing Conservation as an ethical decision. Twenty years later, Rachael Carson's Silent Spring roused a sleeping nation to the dangers of our New World Order and generated enough momentum to found the Environmental Movement culminating in Senator Gaylord Nelson’s first Earth Day in 1970. This movement reached critical mass with the passage of such landmark legislation as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the establishment of the EPA. All of this led up to the first landmark event on a Global scale in 1972 with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Sweden. These notables all led up to what Edward’s considers the birth of Sustainability with the World Commission on Environment and Development report in 1987 which defined Sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Edward’s differentiates between the Environmental Movements of the 1960’s/70’s which were issue based and typically led by charismatic leaders like Carson and Nelson with the Sustainability Revolution that he sees today which is much broader and lacks one central figurehead. Edward’s identifies a Core of Sustainability with the following 3 categories:
Ecology/Environment This "E" is framed by three broad concepts: long term not short term thinking, a focus on the systemic understanding of ecosystems critical importance to human life, and finally the strongly held belief that there are limits to the amount of life that the ecosystems of the Earth can support.
Economy/Employment Here is where Edwards begin to grow beyond the traditional Environmental movement. Sustainability focuses on the critical importance of secure, employment and economies that do not overstretch their ecosystems. There isn't a community on Earth that can be truly sustainable if they cannot meet the needs of their citizens-impoverished Africans will harvest bushmeat and American farmers will turn more and more to industrial agriculture without a viable economic alternative to feed their families and pay their bills.
Equity/Equality Without going all socialist here, the world may not currently have a resource shortage, but it certainly has a distribution problem. Ok, I'll go a little socialist-moral issues such as famines and homelessness are all the more terrible because they are preventable if we could just redistribute the wealth/resources already in use in our society. Edwards also stresses community building in this "E" recognizing the inherent importance in concern and cooperation with ones neighbor. "At a fundamental level, members of a sustainable community understand that the well being of the individual and the larger community are interdependent."
The bulk of Edwards’ book is spent flushing out these 3 categories and providing actual organizations or conferences that address them specifically. Edward’s also spends a lot of time defining Principles for each category and looking for common themes. In Chapter 2 he delves into Sustainability and Community with great examples like the inspiring Netherlands National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP) and the Earth Charter. Further chapters devote time to Commerce, Ecological Design, Natural Resources, and the Biosphere. Subsequent chapters spend several pages each with an organization that is on the leading edge of driving change in their area of expertise providing fantastic examples of how we can all “be the change we wish to see in the world”.
Edwards concludes the book by identifying Seven Common Themes that all the detailed organizations have in common:
Respect for limits
Economic restructuring
Fair Distribution
  Inter-generational perspective
Nature as a model and teacher
These themes can be seen at work in areas such as Curitiba, Brazil and Kerala, India where governments are literally changing the way that cities and regions are run to create ore sustainable paradigms. Edwards concludes that “Sustainability offers the possibility of brining social change values into the mainstream and pushing the mainstream toward sustainable practices.” I will leave you with a beautiful quote from the Netherlands’s Green Plan NEPP4:
“All humans seek to survive, to live healthily and to live meaningfully. This still does not add up to a sustainable life however. A sustainable life involves more: a realization, for example, that humans are not the only living creatures on the planet and must respect all life. And it involves, for example, the shouldering of responsibilities in a range of different roles: as citizens, as producer, as consumer or as citizen of the world. By bearing responsibility for the social, economic and ecological consequences of our actions both now and later… …we will bring sustainable development closer.”
Andres Edwards’ book is a great primer for anyone seeking to become more intimately aware of the myriad diverse initiatives in action across our globe as we try to dig ourselves out of this mess. The Doom and Gloom is easy, Edwards provides real proof that there are hundreds of thousands of intelligent, inspiring people fighting for a better way across the globe. Learning from them is a both a necessity and a pleasure.
Interested in learning more? Here are some great links and books included in the Resources section of the book:
The Earth Policy Institute
The International Institute for Sustainable Development
Natural Capitalism Solutions
The Rocky Mountain Institute
The Global Footprint Network
The Natural Step
The Land Institute
US Green Building Council
The Permaculture Research Institute
Should Reads:
Natural Capitalism
Cradle to Cradle
Permaculture: Pathways and Principles
The Natural Step for Communities
-- Groovy Green, written by Beo

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